Twenty-five years ago, if you told someone that in the future we would be able to virtually recreate the sound of a piano, guitar or voice that sounds so realistic you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, you may well have just been laughed at. Skip to 2016 and see how 20 years of development has taken virtual studio technology to advancements beyond belief, and it’s still expanding.
With all the thousands of virtual instruments available today, I think we can agree that vocals are without a doubt one of the hardest to recreate, being the most natural instrument of all, to be able to achieve all those incremental changes in volume, pitch and tone takes some serious skill, thought and dedication. If you’re interested in buying a vocal instrument, here is a rundown of some of our favourite vocal software and effect plug-ins and their differences, all available for purchase from Time+Space.
Two entirely new vocal-based instruments for Kontakt from Zero-G, Deeva and Velvet, are stunning collections of deeply produced female vocal samples, covering a wide selection of styles.
Deeva features over 650 stunning female vocal samples geared towards dance and RnB all wrapped up in a custom Kontakt interface that delivers incredible simplicity and a high degree of playability. The main user controls enable a depth of sound manipulation and also allow you to not only personalise the existing phrases but create new ones too. The phrases can be mixed and combined, and using the two Off-Set controls you can change the starting points of the samples using the waveform display. This allows you to create new phrases and to personalise the existing phrases. These phrases can be manipulated in many ways by the GUI controls including time-stretching or syncing to your host application. As well as all this, Deeva is also equipped with a complete FX rack that includes chorus, flanger and phaser, compressor, EQ, filter, convolution reverb, overdrive, delay, amp simulator and cabinet simulator.
Velvet Vocal combines over 500 downtempo vocal samples in 10 complete song performances sourced entirely from specially recorded pro vocal performances. These mellow leftfield vocals are incredibly versatile, lending themselves to many genres of music and similarly to Deeva, the custom Kontakt interface of Velvet Vocal includes easy controls & fully automated MIDI controllers that allow to shape the sound of your phrases to suit your preference. Again, Velvet Vocal is fully equipped with a complete FX section that includes chorus, flanger and phaser, compressor, EQ, filter, convolution reverb, overdrive, delay, amp simulator and cabinet simulator.
Both instruments are available to buy now for £39.95 each or get them both as a bundle for only £71.95.
Here is our walkthrough of Deeva:
In his 7th year with Best Service, it is clear to see that Eduardo Tarilonte is still moving from strength to strength. After the successful release of libraries such as Desert Winds, Epic World and Shevannai Voice of Elves, his newest instrument KWAYA, sampled from an African vocal group, has exceeded expectations. Eduardo spent endless months with ‘Aba Taano’, an award-winning Ugandan choir consisting of 4 male and 2 female vocalists, sampling them all individually with great detail and depth; it is clear to see how successful the results are.
The main user interface is clear and unbusy with the six separate vocalists assigned to their own volume and pan, giving you full control over the size of your custom built ensemble. The prize feature of KWAYA is the phrase arranger which has been deeply produced to ensure every one of the 40 different available syllables can seamlessly merge to the next and create a whirlwind of native, luscious African phrases. Combine up to 8 different syllables with the option of long or short articulation and use the keyswitch function to change between phrases. Switch on legato mode and you’ll get a whole new experience with shimmering reverb and long gliding melodies.
On top of all the creative possibilities of the phrase arranger, KWAYA provides a rich selection of 700 different vocal effects such as yells, chants, vocal rhytms and even poems. The 16 soundscapes capture the heart of Africa and will sit perfectly in the background of your ethnic creations; from ‘Forbidden Jungle’ to ‘Night Walk’ and ‘Savanna Sunrise’, combine one of these together with the phrases and some vocal yells for a wonderful concoction of sound.
It goes without saying, but if you’re into writing ethnic world music then there really isn’t another library out there that can give you such a full and realistic world of sound like this one can. That doesn’t have to be it’s sole purpose though; several dance genres such as house and it’s many variants tend to use tribal and aboriginal vocal or dialogue samples, so instead of spending time trying to find the right one, use KWAYA to create your own!
Have a look at the official demo track for KWAYA, Lost in Canjnga, below.
“The first truly modern vocal engine” is the title Output has given Exhale, their vocal instrument that combines cutting-edge sound design with sleek, modern looks and meets the needs of today’s producers, composers and musicians.
As with all Output products, the main user interface consists of four macro sliders which adjust suitably according to the preset you choose, or if you’d prefer, make your own combination of macros; choose from the 15 different parameters to give vocals a radical reload. Notes-mode contains a wealth of presets that are all chromatically mapped to the keyboard, allowing you play melodies, chords and rhythmic patterns of your choice. Use the tag section to effortlessly filter through the 500 presets and find the sound you’re looking for, be it a dirty electro lead or a warm airy pad, you won’t be left feeling short-changed after discovering the power and depth of this instrument.
The Loops mode gives you even further options regarding the presets; each one is equipped with 13 distinct loops assigned to 13 notes on the keyboard, specifically C2 to C3. The loops will play in any key you choose which is another small but very useful feature that Output have got covered. The loops can be played individually or for a more busy sound, layer them together and find some interesting cross-rhythms. The 3rd and final mode is Slices, which works similarly to Loops in that it provides 13 different ‘slices’ per preset, assigned again to the notes of C2 to C3, with the ability to play them in any key. What makes Slices different is that it takes the original preset, cuts it up, and jumbles it all back together in a new and completely random order.
So that’s the front end of this instrument, but we’ve only scratched the surface of Exhale’s capabilities; where it all really happens is in the ‘engine’ tab. At a first glance it’s almost a bit overwhelming regarding how busy it looks but once you grasp the layout it’s very easy to see the huge potential of Exhale. The engine page is split into 3 main panels; Sources, Rhythm and Effects. Sources will allow you to build up sounds from scratch by selecting 1 or 2 different sources; choose from male, female or group as well as ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ or ‘hums’ and one-shots, pads or the more interesting and processed tape sources.
The Rhythm panel consists of a modulating LFO that can be targeted to any of the 6 effects below it; volume, pan, filter, phaser, talk or saturate. You can choose how much of the modulation you want to apply to each source and then further edit it in the effects panel below. Finally, along the bottom of the engine interface you can find an additional 7 independent effects: Pitch, Dirt, Motion, Compressor, Tone, Delays and Reverb which again can all be further edited when the module is clicked on. There really is a lot to experiment with!
“A remarkable instrument that truly turns voices into instruments and effects. It’s very much aimed towards scoring, sound design and electronic music and goes far beyond what you might normally associate with a virtual instrument in the “vocals” category.”
This comment from AskAudio sums it up for me really; Exhale has successfully lived up to its claim of being ‘the first truly modern vocal engine’ and should take this in its pride. The awesome selection of notes, loops and slices can be twisted to the point where they should no longer be called vocal samples, making this a multi-resource bank of sound FX, samples, rhythms, transitions, melodies, pads and anything more you can make of it! A genuinely impressive and highly recommended product for anyone at the forefront of the modern music scene, looking to break traditions and create never-heard-before styles.
Take a look at Output’s walkthrough video for Exhale below to hear some of the great content.
iZotope have a reputation that is second to none; with over 15 years of developing leading music production software and with the recent release of their new intelligent and first-of-its-kind mixing software Neutron, their place in the industry is still comfortably on top. So when they announced the release of a multi-effect vocal plug-in earlier this year, the public reaction was naturally a burst of excitement. Four advanced vocal engines, a pitch corrector and 5 different effects have been assembled into one neat, colour coded interface to give you the power to extensively manipulate your vocals.
The in-house pitch corrector is compact and the easy-to-use controls will give you the most natural sounding corrections you could hope for; apply it as a subtle fix or use it with extreme purpose for a robotic sounding effect. The first of the four engines, Polyvox, will turn one voice into a harmonic stack of sound that will be just as realistic as having an a cappella group at your command. The Vocoder offers 10 presets, all with a great variety of characteristics as well as the option of ‘smooth’, ‘vintage’ or ‘hard’ parameters. Compuvox gives your vocals a computer voice effect modelled on the handheld talking and teaching toys of the ’80s. Use the ‘bits’ and ‘bytes’ controls to manipulate the amount of digital noise and ‘bats’ will ‘increase vocal gravel for a winged-animal-man effect’!! Make instruments come alive with Talkbox; sidechain any instrument you choose to Vocal Synth and use Talkbox to make the instrument literally speak your audio! ‘Grungy funk’, ‘too square’ and ‘chipped bits’ are a few of the weird and wonderful presets that can be found.
The five effects have been specially selected and modified to make them the perfect match for vocals. The Distort effect will crush any audio that gets in its path and turn it into an ugly yet awesome noise, or use Filter to add some High-Pass and Low-Pass sweeps with a choice of four different styles: New York LP, New York HP, Scream or Combo. Transform will enhance the space of your sound using speaker convolution modeling, choose from the different impulse responses and simulate amps and radios for some interesting results. Shred, my favourite effect, will chop up and repeat your vocals to give them some glitchy complex rhythms; I’ve found that combining this with polyvox can result in some really cool textures. Finally is the wide stereo Delay effect which will apply panning movement and liven up any voice.
Whether you’re just using it for fun or applying it to a track for some versatility, the possibilities with VocalSynth are substantial and make it a suitable tool for many genres. On one end of the spectrum it is a great effect for modern pop, hip hop and electronic producers looking to give their vocals a computerized glitchy edge but on the other hand, the vintage style vocoder presets and talkbox would give it that thick autotuned analog sound of the late 90s/early 2000s, perfect for synthpop.
Check out this video from iZotope to get a glimpse into VocalSynth.
Zero-G are no newcomers to producing vocal instrument plug-ins, since the company’s beginning in the 1990s they have released over 20 different vocal related sample libraries, instruments and effects including the very popular Vocaloid range.
Ethera, the most recent addition, is a stunning cinematic collection of vocal richness from Clara Sorace, consisting of 3 main sections: Legato, Pads and Phrases. The main GUI is simple and very much suits the dreamy aura of Ethera; the various sound shaping dials avoid heavy processing and allow for natural sounding changes in envelope and pitch. A neat FX Rack is also a handy addition to Ethera, offering a modulator, compressor, EQ, filter, drive, reverb and delay as well as amp and cabinet simulators. Though you may want to apply effects from other plugins with a wider choice, it is a useful feature to include on top of an already powerful instrument and you will benefit from experimenting with the various reverbs and delays that add more appeal to your melodies and phrases.
The Legato section will enable you to ‘play’ the voice of Ethera in either sustained or staccato styles. It’s great to experiment playing in different ranges and keys for example I really liked the sound of playing sustained, low register notes using a minor key with a slow attack, it produced some really dark sounding textures that would work perfect as an underscore. The Pads section contain several beautiful vocal pads that immediately add emotion or grandeur to your compositions. Layering melodies and phrases on top of the pads can give some dramatic results, especially when using the pads in a lower register as it really adds a deep boom to the bottom of the chords. The Phrases section is where the inspiration comes from within Ethera, with 45 different vocal patches stretching over a wide ranges of genres including epic, fantasy, celtic, operatic, tribal, world, soul and even EDM! The waveform display allows you to change the beginning and ending points of each phrase, meaning you’ll be creating new samples within existing samples!
Ethera is an effortlessly powerful instrument that will bring a soaring presence to your cinematic, operatic masterpieces. You’ll be immediately drawn to the pureness of Clara’s voice and find yourself wanting to include Ethera in any project you can, either as a subdued, harmonic drone pad or an empowering, majestic and high solo line. An essential tool for any composer looking for clean, realistic vocals that will fit comfortably with most genres and styles.
Here is a quick demo showing what sounds some of the phrases produce.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to virtual vocal instruments and effects but I hope this guide has given you a clearer understanding of where strengths lie in these 4 top of the market products. Visit www.timespace.com to find out more about these products and explore the many others on offer.